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A young girl holds up an Easter egg she's just found in a scavenger hunt in a park.

Scavenger hunts: why they’re crucial to your child’s development

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Struggling to find a fun, educational activity for your youngster? A good old scavenger hunt might be more beneficial than you think.

When was the last time your child took part in a scavenger hunt? Perhaps it was at Easter, when they were on a mission to collect as many chocolate eggs as possible, or maybe it was at school or a birthday party not too long ago. Whatever the occasion, these engaging hunts aren’t only tied to laughs and delicious final rewards, they also offer an array of often overlooked benefits, which can be crucial to your child’s cognitive and emotional development.

Research has suggested that scavenger hunts are most beneficial for children aged four and under, as they challenge their naturally inquisitive nature while teaching them a number of key skills. According to Dr Claire Halsey, a child psychologist at UK-wide parenting programme company Triple P, “From birth to age four, a child’s brain develops more than at any other time in their life. Key social skills involved in scavenger hunts, such as problem-solving, teamwork and communication, make them a great activity to help your child develop. [The game] also gets them away from screens.”

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A young boy climbing a tree on a summer's day.
Photo by Jeremiah Lawrence
Laying the foundation

Scavenger hunts pose situations where children can work out real-life problems in a tangible way. “As toddlers and young children think about and try their ideas to solve a simple clue, then keep trying if their first idea doesn’t work, their resilience and persistence develops as they find a solution,” says Halsey. “Learning these skills is an excellent foundation, so when they’re faced with a challenge in their education or friendship group, they have the tools at their disposal to succeed.”

However, the hunt shouldn’t be too hard. Halsey advises to keep clues short and simple in the early years, to avoid the risk of your child losing their patience or quitting.

The game can also involve working as part of a team, which is another vital skill most of us use in everyday life. Kick-starting your child’s understanding of social skills through teamwork at a young age can only help them later down the line.

“Learning to communicate by sharing simple ideas together and solving clues helps your child learn their earliest social skills, such as listening, taking turns and building their speech and language,” explains Halsey. “This will set them up for nursery and school right through to their first job, where working with others is crucial to success.”

Combine problem-solving and teamwork with the benefits of outdoor play, and you have yourself a winner. “Connecting with nature isn’t just good for children’s wellbeing, it can enhance their social-emotional skills and intellectual development as well. The natural world offers freedom that the living room can’t; [children] can run, shout, explore and take risks, which is invaluable for their physical development and builds a love of the outdoors,” adds Halsey.

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A selection of multi-coloured Easter eggs from a scavenger hunt lying in the grass in a park.
Photo by Denisse Leon

THREE 2023 SCAVENGER HUNTS FOR FAMILIES

The Trafalgar Square Treasure Hunt Trail

Buy the downloadable PDF trail for £9.99 and follow the fictional hunt for treasure around one of the capital’s most famous landmarks. treasuretrails.co.uk

The Lindt Gold Bunny Hunt at Hampton Court Palace

From 1-16 April 2023, families can explore the 60 acres of palace gardens to find Lindt Gold Bunny statues in return for a chocolate reward. hrp.org.uk

Jurassic Scavenger Hunt at the Natural History Museum

Download the free checklist and tick off as many items as you can, ranging from pine cones to beetles, while wandering around the museum. nhm.ac.uk

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